LUTZ – The Gaither Cowboys can breathe a little easier after passing Steinbrenner for first place in Class 7A District 7 with their 37-7 victory on Thursday night. Led by their defensive line and secondary all game long, the Cowboys now control their own destiny for a possible district title and postseason appearance.
In the first quarter, Gaither (3-2, 2-0 district) used their front line of defenders to punish the struggling Warriors offense right from the start. Steinbrenner (3-2, 1-1 district) received the ball to begin the game, but couldn’t muster much offensively as sophomore quarterback Curtis Fitch was pressured heavily. After a missed opportunity led to turnover on downs, Gaither took advantage with good field position, but couldn’t put up points as Cody Hodgins’ field goal from 42 yards fell just short. On their next possession however, the Cowboys used momentum from a Steinbrenner fumble to put the ball through the upright resulting in an early 3-0 lead.
The Warriors would get their first shot at good field position later in the quarter though, as Steinbrenner defensive back AJ Brown recovered a fumble. But again, the Gaither defense would pressure Fitch and the offense constantly leading to a quick three and out. The Cowboys began their next drive inside their own five yard line, but that wouldn’t be an issue as speedy senior quarterback Shug Oyegunle shredded the Warriors defense and secondary for a 91 yard touchdown run giving Gaither a 10-0 lead.
In the second quarter, things seemed to be getting brighter for the Warriors who had failed to reach positive yardage through the first 12 minutes of play, but senior Zack Jones got the offense rolling with a big first down run. Then, Fitch threw a deep pass to junior wide receiver Jon Marc-Carrier for a 36 yard gain, setting up a first and goal. Jones would then pound the ball through a host of Cowboy defenders and into the end zone, getting the Warriors back within three points of the lead.
Gaither would respond to the Warriors touchdown by recovering a Kendall Pearcey fumble on the ensuing drive after Steinbrenner recovered their onside kick attempt midway through the quarter. Jelani Ottley set up Gaither at the Warriors four yard line after he recovered the fumble and sophomore quarterback Alex McGough hooked up with Oyegunle for another Gaither touchdown, extending their lead to 16-7 after missing the two-point conversion.
The night fell apart for Steinbrenner soon after when Fitch was picked off by senior Edward Pastrana, one of five interceptions for him on the night setting a new Gaither school record. The Cowboys scoring machine wouldn’t stop, as Oyegunle took a handoff inside for his third touchdown of the night making the score 23-7, as Gaither would begin to run away with the game late in the second quarter.
In the second half, trailing by four possessions, the Warriors looked for anything to help them get back into the game. After both teams traded three and outs early in the third quarter, Pearcey returned a Gaither punt nearly 70 yards, but was called back after officials called an illegal block in the back souring any momentum gained.
In the fourth quarter, with under three minutes to play, back-up quarterback Logan Lepace was sacked hard by Gaither defensive lineman Joshua Scarberry and fumbled the football, which was picked up and returned for the final Cowboys touchdown of the night and a 37-7 final score.
Steinbrenner will look to get back into the win column next Friday night, when they travel to Riverview to face the Sharks. Gaither will travel to Gibsonton and take on the East Bay Indians.
Jeff Odom / Sports Editor